Polite Politics

iStock Handshake in an elevatorHow to apply influence to get what you need without compromising your soul


In August of 2013, my life changed. While I remained the founding President of International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA), I became its former CEO.

It was not my choice. But I believe that every change presents new opportunities – for me, for IIBA, for everyone.

I also believe that the achievement of any significant milestone requires a look back or post implementation review (retrospective, if you are an agilest). What went well on the journey to this point and what could be done better?

Polite Politics is the outcome of that assessment.

Since I think in PowerPoint slides, I captured my thoughts first as a presentation. I also plan to make it into a book. Over the next few months, I will share my lessons learned and, hopefully, my experience and realizations will help you manage the ups and downs in your career as well.


The world is run by politicians. It is not good or bad – it is. And while none of us believe we will have to play the game of politics to succeed and prosper in our jobs, we need to understand the rules of our environment – social, political, legal, implied, personal, and how we can apply them within the constraints of our own values.

In my search for understanding, I read a number of books on various topics associated with politics. One of them, Survival of the Savvy, by Rick Brandon & Marty Seldman, describes politics as a continuum. On one end of the continuum (the non-political end) is the power of ideas. On the other side of the continuum (the extremely political side) is the power of people. Neither end is good; neither end is bad. They represent different approaches to getting work done. Any of us will drift along the continuum depending on the issue. We may not move much but depending on the context, we may shift our approach.

Below is a list of descriptors associated with each.

Power of Ideas
(less political)

Power of People
(more political)

  • Substance power
  • Focus on feedback & learning
  • Do the right thing
  • More open agenda
  • Meritocracy-based decisions
  • Results & ideas speak for themselves
  • Position power
  • Focus on image & perception
  • Do what works
  • More private agenda
  • Relationship-based decisions
  • Self-promotion


Looking at those characteristics, many of us would shy away at the idea of being self-promoting or having a private agenda (i.e., falling within the Power of the People spectrum). Doing a good job, delivering on expectations, working hard should be enough to ensure us a long and happy career in whatever organization we choose to work. But that is not case. We all work in environments with a variety of different types of people. To survive, we need to understand where they fall on the continuum and alter our behavior (within the constraints of our values) to work most effectively with them.

How could any of those characteristics on the right be considered “not bad”? There are many cases where individuals utilize some of the more political characteristics yet would not be viewed as a typical politician. For example:
A manager wants to get someone in his/her group promoted. S/he is competing with other areas with similarly qualified candidates. This manager may potentially draw on a past favour, negotiate an exchange of favours with the decision maker, or leverage the reputation of the group to ensure a fighting chance for his/her candidate.
Would we consider that political? Maybe? Would you want to work for that manager? Probably. Situations are not generally black and white, yes or no. There is always nuance. You have to recognize it.

Rick Brandon & Marty Seldman offer many additional insights and tools to help you survive and thrive. I highly recommend you check out their book. You can also watch an IIBA archived webinar by Rick Brandon, What’s Your Political Style – Learn Tactics for Career and Company Success on the IIBA public webinar archive page.

Future topics (and lessons learned) I will share will include:

  • Politics is not a dirty word
  • Everyone has a boss
  • Don’t be afraid of compromise
  • Never say “NO”
  • Focus on the common ground
  • Care but not too much
  • Play the long game
  • Walk a mile in my shoes
  • Good intentions are not enough
  • Know what you believe in

In the meantime, if you have relevant experience or stories you would like to share, please contact me through my website contact form or through LinkedIn. I am looking to interview people who can add breadth and depth to the discussion.

Have something to Add? (Choose a platform below)

Speak Your Mind

Loading Facebook Comments ...